Dozens of investors arrested in Gambella region

Gambella, January 11. 2017 (GMN) -The arrests come following a report to the prime minister about misuse of government loans meant to promote commercial farming.

The fallout from the Gambella land controversy continued this week with the arrest by the regional government of several local business people allegedly involved in the corrupt use of government loans and commercial farms.

The Gambella Regional Administration has arrested close to two dozen individuals who are accused of financial maladministration and fraud. The individuals are investors, brokers, land experts and officials. The former head of the region’s Investment Bureau is among those arrested.

The arrests came weeks after the release of a controversial report on commercial farm investment in the region, initiated by the Prime Minister’s office. The report identified close to 21 middle men who had influence over the regional, wereda and zonal offices over commercial land and were accused of several improprieties.

The report to the prime minister attributed some of the abuses of loans to investors who were said to shift the loans they received to other uses unrelated to commercial farming.

“The arrests were made in accordance with the list identified in the report,” a senior official from the Region’s Investment Bureau told Fortune.

“Most of the arrested are from the regional bureaus,” said an investor. “I bet it will go down to zones and weredas.”

Even though billions of birr were spent on commercial farming, the productivity of the farms was far from the targeted output. The report also stated that the investors utilized only 84pc or 3.3 billion Br of the loan for the intended purpose.

“The report faults only the investors, which is not right,” said an investor from Gambella Agricultural Investors Cooperative. “If the foreign investors were not included in the report the figures on loan utilization might go up to 94pc.”

However, the cooperative is supportive of the arrests made in the case, he added. “As long as the right individuals behind the problem are convicted we fully support the action by the region,” he said.

Such mass arrest of officials and investors has been the fashion over the past week along all channels of the government. Last week, the federal government arrested close 130 business people who are suspected of corruption. Share companies and factories, as well as other property were seized. Moreover, the Addis Abeba City Administration has also taken similar steps. Tigray and Amhara regions also took measures on hundreds of political appointees.

Days before the arrests the region’s officials had met with investors and promised to take action. In a meeting with the investors that was held at Ghion Hotel on December 24,2016, the Development Bank of Ethiopia said it would look into the details of the problems.

The report to the prime minister was fiercely criticized by commercial farm investors upon its release.

“We believe the report needs correction,” Yemane Seifu, head of the Gambella Agricultural Investors’ Cooperative, told Fortune. The Cooperative was very vocal in criticizing the report from the PM’s office.

“There is confusion and an amalgamation of the failures of the foreign investors with the local ones,” he said. (Fortunes)